Girlfriend, Boyfriend offers a slight twist on your classic love triangle story. This coming-of-age romance begins with its three protagonists — Mabel, Liam, and Aaron — as high school friends in southern Taiwan during the 1980s back when the island was still under martial law. In a normal love triangle, you’d have both guys competing for the girl. In this one, you have a girl and a guy competing for the same other guy. Liam, as we discover partway through the film, is gay, with unrealized feelings for Aaron (which is pretty remarkable for a mainstream Asian film). Meanwhile, Aaron and Mabel become a straight couple.
In 1990, the year the three main characters are studying in college, one of the most remarkable student movement happened in Taiwan – Wild Lily student movement. Thousands of students sat in Memorial Square, demanding from the government to change the election form and be more democratic. Aaron becomes Mabel’s boyfriend, and leads the movement at the same time. Liam is secretly dating someone else. Each of them seems to be happy, because they all have someone to love. And this society also has a brighter future.
But there is a problem: they are not naïve teenagers anymore. Even though they still have ideals, they are not the same guys anymore. Arron starts to cheat Mabel with other girls, and she tries to ignore the truth. Liam, who stands between them, feels uncomfortable about the situation. Their close relationship becomes like a rope around their necks, making them suffer, as they realize the dark side of each other.
Their love is transformed into a wound that can’t be healed. In 1997, these three characters meet again, but there is a huge gap between their souls. Their idealist spirits have already crumbled. Their broken heart forces them to face each other with honesty, which leads to the final climax, which is so tragic and emotional.
Director Yang Ya-che stated in an interview that Girlfriend, Boyfriend is meant to be a political movie that just happens to include a gay character, and that politics and homosexual love are both supposed to represent an underlying theme of “freedom”. Yang also mentioned that he saw the gay-straight divide as symbolizing the division of Taiwan into indigenous (those whose families were on Taiwan before 1949) v. mainlander (those whose families came to Taiwan after 1949 with the KMT) groups. Those are lofty and intellectually meaty intentions and, at least on the point of politics and homosexuality representing freedom, topics I eagerly expected the film to explore in depth.
However, it is a eulogy for idealism too. The cracking relationship between Aaron, Mabel and Liam is not just a tragic romance, but it is also a metaphor about young people at that time. The reality transforms the naïve students into someone they don’t know. It reflects how the director perceives the people in his generation.
Ya-che Yang ‘s amazing storytelling ability makes this film unforgettable. The plot of the movie is filled with love and loss, which makes people connect the story with their actual lives. Everyone has the same sentiments about having a great time with friends and trying to live their lives. But most important of all, we’ve all experienced a heart breaking love. Ya-che Yang captures the joy and the pain of love with a beautiful story.
Combining the triangle relationship with one of the most important events in Taiwan history, “Girlfriend, Boyfriend” is an excellent film that balances history and personal sentiments very well. It is very difficult for a filmmaker to achieve that. Even though there is too much emotion in some scenes, it is still a classic work about changing Taiwanese society.
Release Year: 2012
Aka: Nu peng you nan peng you – GF*BF
Director: Ya-che Yang
Writer: Ya-che Yang
Language: Min Nan, Mandarin
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 105 min
Cast: Gwei Lun-Mei, Joseph Chang, Rhydian Vaughan, Bryan Shu-Hao Chang, Yong Kuan, Nai Hua Chiu
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